Georgia Federal Court Seeks Guidance from the Georgia Supreme Court on the Application of the "Filed Rate Doctrine" to Rate Filings Made Pursuant to a "File and Use" Regulatory Scheme
On March 27, in Roberts v. Wells Fargo N.A., District Court Judge Avant Edenfield (Southern District of Georgia) certified a question of first impression for decision by the Georgia Supreme Court. The issue concerns the application of the “Filed Rate Doctrine” to insurance rates filed with the Georgia Insurance Commissioner pursuant to the state’s “file and use” rate filing system. Courts in other states have split on the issue of whether the Filed Rate Doctrine applies to rates filed under a “file and use” system, with significant implications for any antitrust claims against insurers that challenge the rates charged to insureds.
The Filed Rate Doctrine issue in Roberts arises in the context of a plaintiff’s class action challenge to a mortgage company’s “force placing” flood insurance on the plaintiff’s behalf when the plaintiff’s own coverage lapsed. The plaintiff contends that the flood insurer chosen by the mortgage company charged rates that were well above “market” rates, and sought damages under a variety of legal theories.
In assessing plaintiff’s claims, Judge Edenfield noted that all of them were potentially covered by the Filed Rate Doctrine, which generally bars the assertion of any claim that would require the court to second guess the reasonableness of a rate that has been approved by the State. However, as Judge Edenfield observed, the “Georgia courts have never said that when an insurance rate is filed with the Commissioner such a filing is . . . entitled to the deference accorded by the filed rate doctrine.” In addition, the fact that the Georgia courts have held that the Filed Rate Doctrine applies to rates filed with the Georgia Public Utility Commission was not dispositive, because the Public Utility Commission “not only has the clear grant of authority to set utility rates, but also has full power and authority to make rules and regulations to effectuate . . . all laws conferring powers and duties on the commission.”
Accordingly, after speculating that “perhaps the power to require insurers to file their rates with the Commissioner is sufficiently analogous to the Public Utility Commission’s authority to determine what a reasonable utility rate is,” Judge Edenfield instead decided to certify the issue for the Georgia Supreme Court to decide. The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision will be significant not only for the Roberts case but also to subsequent cases, in Georgia and elsewhere, where a plaintiff brings antitrust claims challenging an insurer’s rates that have been filed in a “file and use” state. Stay tuned.